Uncategorized

Add a Little Spice

Yesterday I made chili. Normally, such a mundane task would not inspire a blog post. But I am at my mom’s lake house and it has been pouring down rain for 2 days so I can’t get out and explore anywhere (like that funky vintage shop 20 miles away that is full of stuff I don’t really need and which I am just dying to visit). Where my mom lives, two days of rain means the road is washed out, so we are not going anywhere anytime soon.

So I made chili. And I thought I had done a pretty good job, too. I have a solid recipe that I’ve used for years and which has gotten rave reviews. As a matter of fact, one year I entered my chili in a contest at school and it took second place. And even I had to admit that the first place chili was the definite winner. Suffice it to say though, my chili  is good.

So after finally getting it the way I wanted, I had my mom come try it out. Taking a spoon from the creaky wooden drawer beside the sink, she made her way to the stove. She dipped the spoon into the cast iron pot she keeps for just such a meal, took a taste of the chili, and then, as only a mom can, she gave the following review:

“It’s good alright. But if it were mine, I’d add a little more spice.”

What? Was she kidding? That chili was on point. Onions. Peppers. Tomato. A few secret ingredients. Sure, it’s not the kind of chili that sets off three alarms, but really?

“You can’t have too much, but you sure can have too little.”

And then it hit me.

This is my mom we are talking about. My mom, you see, loves spice. She always has.  Not only in her chili. She adds spice to her life. She does this by seeking out adventures, taking chances, making little moments special and squeezing every last drop out of life. See, my mom rode horses until she couldn’t anymore. She flew across the lake in her jet ski until she couldn’t anymore. I remember her telling my son that he went too slow on it. “You just go too slow for my liking” she said to my son after their jet ski ride was over. My son is an Army vet and served a one year combat tour in Iraq. She loves boating and antique shopping and making wood crafts. She has been hot air ballooning. Years ago, she actually climbed this mountain called Whitt Mountain, which looks down upon her house by the lake:

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She has slowed down a little these days. And when my stepdad passed away a year and a half ago, she lost a little of her spunk. Actually, I did too. But now, after some time, she has started looking around for that spice again. That flavor that has always made her, her. And she’s finding it.

She is currently wrapped up in the presidential debates and has very strong opinions which she shares with whoever will listen (and some who would rather not — such as the guys at the local pizza joint we visited a couple of sunny days ago). She loves to watch The Voice because she just loves “that funny guy who wears those neat clothes” (Pharrell Williams). Recently, she planted daffodils next to this old tree stump, left over from a storm that took out the tree a couple years ago. Why did she plant it there? “It needed something”, she said.

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And this all got me to thinking. I also love spice. And not just in my chili. I want my life to matter. I want to make a difference and I want to have adventures. I want to love deeply and laugh often and loudly. I want to look back on my life and be really impressed with all the awesome people who are in it, the fun I had and the beautiful moments I enjoyed. And like my mom, a little spice has always made me, me.

Until the last couple of years, when I lost some people and my life lost some of its flavor and I, like her, lost a little bit of my spunk. But a few months ago, I too started looking around for the spice once again.  And you know what? She is right. You can’t have too much, but you sure can have too little. And those times are going to happen in life, we can’t escape them. But they also have an expiration date and if you are currently in those times, and are missing some spice, then maybe I’m writing this for you. And maybe you’ll want to read it. Because even though loss is just a part of life, maybe your life can’t go back to the flavor it once had. But you can still add some spice and you can create some new flavors. And maybe I can even pinpoint five things in particular that have helped bring out new flavors in this life I’m living now:

Give To Others.

Finding ways to give has been an experience that has greatly enriched and deepened my life. Recently, I helped build a house with Habitat for Humanity, and let me tell you this is not glamorous work. It’s hard. But the day we got to turn the keys over to the new, proud owner was a day filled with tears, hugs, smiles…I won’t ever forget that experience. And I have already signed up for the next house build in April. It’s just a part of my life now. There’s just something about giving that brings a smile to your soul.

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Getting Out of Routine.

Recently, my son & I stumbled upon a really cool lakeside restaurant that has a blues singer on Saturdays and an awe inspiring view of the sailboats at rest. Even more spectacular was that we happened to stop in as they were having a crawfish boil in celebration of Mardi Gras. What an incredibly fun night this was! We don’t live in Louisiana but that night, we sure did celebrate like we did. I visit this place a lot now.

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Discover New Passions.

I’m starting new little hobbies. For example, I am learning to crochet. This might not seem all that spicy, but the lady I found to teach me? We meet on Saturday’s at the most cool, hidden coffee shops we can find around the city. We laugh, talk, swap stories…and we crochet. It’s taking me a little while to learn. After two months I have only progressed to a pot holder. I’m not saying I’m a slow learner on purpose. But, I’m not saying I’m not, either.

Make Time For Friends.

When I made a conscious decision to purposefully plan time with my friends,  it instantly added  a huge amount of joy to my life! I have some great friends that I have taught with over the years, whom I normally kept in touch with basically through random texts and holiday cards. We can all get so busy with work and the daily grind that we just don’t make time to just enjoy and cherish friendships like we should. Now, we have standing monthly “girls day” outings and it’s a lot of fun taking turns planning what our next adventure is going to be. Spend loads of time with friends. They are definitely spice.

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Look For Beauty.

This one is simple. It involves nothing but nature and random moments– and usually, my Iphone camera. I snap cool sunrises and sunsets when I catch them — and I go out of my way to catch them lately. I noticed the random pink flower growing up through the crack in the concrete on a recent trip to downtown Fort Worth. A couple of days ago, I saw the most amazing display of coolness at that local pizza dive I mentioned. It was a huge collection of motorcycles, parked in an exact, straight row along the metal wall and below the tin roof of this place that sits in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields of bluebonnets that are just now starting to appear. I stood there and admired the scene, and I could smell the pizza cooking from inside (it is literally the best you would ever taste) and I am telling you that could be a painting that might sell for thousands of dollars. And there I was, standing in the middle of it. I didn’t get a pic that day. I didn’t even think about getting my phone out. It was just that cool that it transcended getting out the phone. Spice.

How many times do we have this experience on a random outing and never even notice it? Lately. I am finding myself more and more listening to my mom and reaching for all the spice I can get because that’s what makes life worth it. Sometimes, life has a way of knocking us down and we have to make the big effort to get back up and start looking around for that spice. Because life doesn’t have that same flavor when it’s missing. And it can sure go missing. But the thing is, you can always add more. It’s all around us.

And when I look back on my life at the awesome little moments that made it up, I want to smile, and feel joy, and feel love, and feel like my life was a little bit spicy. I want to look back on it from the same awesome kind of place that made it up. Like my mom, who at 74 can look back from the vantage point of a blue ’96 Chevy convertible — which she still drives today, and in summer- with the top down:

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Today, I encourage you to add some spice. Love people. A lot. Notice little beautiful things. Take time to plan special moments and just be in them. Because that’s the thing about spice. It’s all around you. And you can’t get too much. But, you sure can have too little.

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Education, Uncategorized

Spring Reflections

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Well, the excitement is in the air. Spring Break is right around the corner, and while this is always a welcome break, it also ushers in a very hectic time!  Just to give you an idea, here is a quick run down of what may be on an administrator’s plate come Spring (and I am sure you could add to this list for your own campus):

  • State Assessments
  • Finalizing Teacher Appraisals
  • Kindergarten Parent Meetings
  • Spring Carnival
  • Book Fair
  • Various Music Programs
  • Employee Recognition Banquet
  • End of Year Volunteer Brunch
  • End of Year Textbook Inventory
  • SSI/Grade Placement Meetings
  • Finalizing ARD/504 Meetings

That pretty much captures the “big things” that I can think of off the top  of my head, which must occur alongside the “little” things that are just part of day to day school. For me, what sometimes gets lost during hectic times like this is dedicated time for reflection. If you also have trouble staying focused and dedicating time for reflection during this busy season, read on and maybe this will be beneficial to you, too!

Recently, I began reading “A Reflective Planning Journal for School Leaders” by Olaf Jorgenson. At the end of this post, I will include more information on it in case you want to check it out. I just recently got this book, so I confess to having only read the February and beginning of March sections (the book is divided by months). I must say though, I am really enjoying this book. Not only does it contain quotes and inspirational vignettes from other leaders (always a plus for me), but it also includes weekly reflective questions with places to stop and jot down your own ideas and thoughts. I have worked ahead a little, mainly because the March section is really on point (he mentioned many of the things in my own list above) and provides various ideas for maintaining your balance during this time. To give you an idea of the format, here is a look at the current pages I am working through:

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So right away you can see where he prompts the reader to think about some ways to stay focused during this busy time. For example, he asks, “What do you do differently in the busy spring months to balance your workload and maintain visibility…”?  What a great question to reflect on!

So when I think about balancing my workload, I think about organization first. I guess I think about that first because the more organized I can be, the more efficient I am. Last year, for example, I had a white board installed on one wall which I use when arranging and rearranging testing groups during spring testing. I like it because, at a glance, I can look and see timelines approaching as well as who I have assigned to do what, and when. I also like to section off various places in my office for the different tasks that are going on simultaneously during this time. For example, the “cart” on the long wall is for turning in benchmark materials, making it easy for me to wheel it down to the testing room when I am ready to scan and put away this material.

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Other things, such as taking time to get out of the office and breaking my day into “chunks” with manageable pieces are also great ways to stay relaxed and productive. One of my favorite places lately is our newly revamped outdoor garden! This area has been made awesome this year and the kids are doing a great job at planting and caring for this space.  We have a pump for the pond now and a butterfly garden will soon be in full bloom! I have been out a few times this week, hanging out with the kids and just seeing how excited they are. Sure, it goes to visibility, but mainly it’s just fun and I love to be out there with them. Here is a look at that space:

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One of the interesting questions asked in the book was about support staff and what we do to recognize them and lift them up during this particularly busy time. Good question! One that I need to spend some time thinking about. Little things make a big difference.

I also find that stopping and writing on this blog is a MAJOR way that I reflect, maintain balance and stay focused. I have a lot of entries that are not even published yet because I have not done any editing or revising to them— and they may never be published here. Still, writing is always a great way for me personally to keep focused, stay clear-headed, and reflect.

This book is really pretty cool and I like that it provides some reflection and brainstorming structure. I am  once again reminded of the importance of making time to just be with my own thoughts, capture my ideas, and find balance in my busy days.  Sometimes the things we think we have no time for, might actually be some of the most important things.

Do you have any reflection tools that you use? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments! If you might like to check out the book I am using, here is the information:

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Jorgenson, Olaf. A Reflective Planning Journal for School Leaders. Thousand Oaks: Corwin, 2008. Print.